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The Guillermo Del Toro Haunted Mansion Remake We Never Got To See

Oscar-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has had quite a career — moving from Spanish-language short films like Doña Lupe and Geometría to New Line Cinema's Blade sequel to the Hellboy duology, Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak, Pan's Labyrinth, and, of course, The Shape of Water

But for as interesting as del Toro's filmography is, just as captivating are all the films he almost made. From a CGI Wind of the Willows film and a live-action Halo to remake of Fantastic Voyage and a Peter Pan adaptation wherein a detective Hook hunts a seemingly murderous Peter, del Toro's might-have-been movies are define the word "intriguing." He's been fully or nearly attached to so many projects over the years that Wikipedia saw fit to create a whole page of Guillermo del Toro's unrealized projects.

But of all del Toro's near-wins, none was worked on for as long — and perhaps none was as close to his heart — as his planned reboot of Disney's The Haunted Mansion. Del Toro announced the project in July 2010 during that year's San Diego Comic-Con event — mere months after he dropped out as the director of the Hobbit films he had been developing with Peter Jackson for two years, and less than seven years after Disney's last attempt at turning that particular theme park ride into a family-friendly film series.

Guillermo del Toro's Haunted Mansion would bring the spooks and scares

Disney's original The Haunted Mansion was an Eddie Murphy-starring, PG-rated comedy released in late November 2003, only four months after the Mouse House rolled out its surprise smash Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black PearlCritics and audiences took a dim view of the year's second attempt to adapt a theme park ride to film, and The Haunted Mansion made roughly a quarter of what The Curse of the Black Pearl did domestically.

However, The Curse of the Black Pearl's success showed Disney what was possible if executives hit upon the right combination of filmmaker, cast, and tone for one of these ride-to-movie adaptations. Hiring del Toro, acclaimed now and then for the dark fairy tale Pan's Labyrinth and the two supernatural superhero movies of the Hellboy series, seemed the first part of that puzzle. He promised something scary yet fun, something that was definitely not a comedy like its predecessor. The horror elements would even go a notch beyond The Curse of the Black Pearl's skeletal pirates, as del Toro promised back in 2010.

"If you take the children, they will scream," he said during SDCC that July (via Entertainment Weekly).

The Haunted Mansion is 'a way of life' for Guillermo del Toro

From the get-go, del Toro made it clear just how passionate he was about crafting a remake of The Haunted Mansion, a ride he's loved for two decades at this point. He told MTV during an interview conducted amid 2010's SDCC, "For some people, it's just a ride. For others like me, it's a way of life. We're really serious fanatics. I'm a big, big collector of it. I've been collecting not only memorabilia, but also original artifacts from the mansion for the last ten years."

Del Toro then explained that his version of the film would have revolved around the Hatbox Ghost, a figure in the original ride that was removed soon after it opened in 1969, placing it in the center of a network of spooky homes that spanned the globe.

"We are taking sort of the core mythology that you can tap into and saying that there are many mansions around the world and they're all part of a sort of web. The spider sitting at the center of the web is what the fans of the Haunted Mansion would know by the nickname 'the Hatbox Ghost,'" he detailed to MTV. "[It's] a beautiful creature that was created, but there's a legend that it was discarded on the first day of the ride's operation because it was too scary. I like that legend, but the reality is that the Imagineers could not make the illusion work, so they took it out."

Did Disney want Guillermo del Toro's version of The Haunted Mansion?

Despite del Toro's excitement, the movie seemed to be no one's top priority, and its development inched along at It's-a-Small-World pace. Del Toro told Collider ahead of the release of his monsters-versus-mechs blockbuster Pacific Rim in 2013 that he was still "chasing writers," and that he doubted whether he'd be able to do more than produce The Haunted Mansion. In 2014, he said during a Reddit AMA that he was working on finishing up a new draft and that he would be open to directing again. A year later, in 2015, TheWrap reported that Ryan Gosling was in talks to star — and that he and del Toro even visited Disneyland together during Oscars weekend to ride the Haunted Mansion and others.

Then, nothing — no news for years. Gosling stayed busy with the likes of La La Land and Blade Runner 2049; no matter how much fun he had that day at Disneyland, he didn't really need the Haunted Mansion gig. Del Toro released Crimson Peak in 2015, and would go on to win Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture for 2017's The Shape of Water.

Jump forward to 2019, and in an interview with Moviefone, del Toro admitted that he wasn't optimistic his version of The Haunted Mansion would ever get made. "We have had two or three screenplays that I would have gladly shot," he said. "In my opinion, they were ready to be made. We've had a studio that has gone through a couple of seismic changes in that period."

That last sentence might be the key point. Since del Toro's Haunted Mansion was announced in 2010, the Disney-distributed Marvel films have smashed box office records. Star Wars has been brought back into the blockbuster fold. Pixar continues to print money, and Walt Disney Animation Studios has produced the likes of Frozen, Zootopia, and Moana.

It's easy to see how the studio's and the director's visions for what qualifies as "family-friendly" might not line up. The same qualities that made a del Toro-shepherded Haunted Mansion such a unique and attractive idea also made it risky. For del Toro, just because a child is screaming doesn't mean he or she can't be having fun — but for Disney, every screaming child comes with the risk of an unhappy parent, and that means less money in the Scrooge McDuck-style bank.

A new writer, a new direction

In August 2020, The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that Disney had tapped Katie Dippold, writer of The Heat and the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot, to tackle a new version of The Haunted Mansion. Little is known about the direction Dippold might take with her script, but with her background in comedy writing for Mad TV and Parks and Recreation, it's safe to say she's likely to bring a different, lighter vision to the project than del Toro planned to.

Del Toro's version of The Haunted Mansion will join the extensive list of projects he has developed but never completed, slotting in next to the likes of At the Mountains of Madness, his intended take on Beauty and the Beast, and a Justice League Dark film. Luckily, fans of his won't have to wait long to see his take on a different family-friendly, existentially horrifying property: del Toro's stop-motion Pinocchio is due out on Netflix in 2021.